ISO 26000 and Supply Chain Management

August 11, 2011 EcoVadis

What does the development of social responsibility guideline ISO 26000, mean for supply chains?

The goal of ISO 26000 is “to provide a simple, easy to use guidance document for non-specialists and encourage voluntary commitment to social responsibility”. This new ISO standard was always going to be ambitious; it was developed with the largest working group in ISO history, of 400 people, from 99 different countries, 69 of which are developing nations.

It covers the whole spectrum of issues pertaining to social responsibility, namely organizational government, human rights, labor practices, the environment, fair operating practices, consumer issues and community involvement. As Rob Steele, the ISO Secretary-General states, the subjects covered are relevant to all organizations, be they private or public sector:

“I do believe this is relevant for all countries and for all organizations, be they large, small, private sector or governmental.” (Read the full interview with Rob Steele here)

Aside from the breadth of scope, the other departure for ISO is a standard which is not certifiable, using the word “should” instead of “shall” throughout. Steele’s take on this is that there is a need to take CSR away from box ticking and towards a framework of constant progress and innovation:

“I think the opportunity to have a standard that is certifiable focuses people’s minds on the certificate. In the case of ISO 26000, it focuses people’s minds on the performance.”

A key word he also uses in this discussion is “flexibility”, not just because this standard is designed to work within any type of organization in any industry, but also because the objective of this standard is to embrace individualized evolution.

The inability to prove compliance is a problem when you’re looking to improve the performance of your supply chain in an immediate sense. Though it does demonstrate that what is required to see real progress is dedication and hard work for both individual companies and their clients who want to facilitate CSR improvements in their supply chains.

ISO 26000 is well suited to increase awareness, provide definitions and add legitimacy to the social responsibility debate. Dave Meyer argues that the guidelines will be useful for small to mid-sized Enterprises (SME) in particular, giving them an overview of social responsibility issues in one place. While standards and certifications are worthwhile, useful and quantifiable, guidelines are better placed to culture a climate of progress and in the form of ISO 26000, should prove more useful for generating an embedded CSR structure.

However, some have argued that as stand-alone guidance, ISO 26000 may not contain sufficient practical advice to facilitate SMEs to turn theory into reality. It is a lengthy document at 120 pages and although language is simple and clear, it may not be the most accessible piece of writing, especially for much smaller companies. It has also been criticized for not advancing or building on any of the already established principles it references, such as the UN Global Compact.

EcoVadis uses ISO 26000 in its methodology and assessment of suppliers. We quantify elements of sustainable development to create our unique evaluations, but the overall approach is to look at the potential progress and evolution of individual suppliers towards greater sustainability by focusing on management systems that are in place to mitigate risk. Innovation and opportunity our also key elements in our assessment process and we endeavor to communicate the importance of this to our clients and those we assess.

In an ever-changing, evolving and progressive CSR landscape, creativity and adaptability will prove themselves key assets and we feel ISO 26000 will go some way to aiding that.

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This article was written by Maria Mursell, a CSR Analyst at EcoVadis.

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